New Zealand is desperately short of skilled workers in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Engineers make up just over one percent of New Zealand’s population and in 2014, five percent of New Zealand graduates at bachelor’s level or higher had studied engineering – compare that to the OECD average of 12 percent and we’re lagging well behind. What’s more, women make up just 14 percent of New Zealand’s engineers.
Already working to connect STEM professionals with schools for 12 years was Engineering New Zealand’s Futureintech programme. However, it was prescriptive and measurement focused so needed a refresh to remain relevant.
With the help of advisors, Engineering New Zealand decided to take a sustained engagement approach and focus on building confidence from an early age – particularly in kids who are underrepresented. With that in mind, it created the Wonder Project.
The Wonder Project set out to take kids on a creative, dynamic and fun STEM journey.
An important part of this was making the programme relevant, accessible and understandable – especially for those who may not have been exposed to STEM in the past. It also had to appeal to both boys and girls, and appeal to Māori and Pacifika kids as they are the ones underrepresented.
It includes three successive programmes that knit into the school curriculum, including a Rocket Challenge for years five to eight, a Community Challenge for years seven–10 and STEM Careers for years 11–13. Each programme is supported by Wonder Project Ambassadors, a group of passionate industry professionals who work alongside the students and teachers in their learning journey.
The Rocket Challenge was the first Wonder Project Programme to launch with 190 New Zealand schools. For it, students worked to design, build and launch a water rocket. The challenge runs over six to eight weeks during the school term and is supported by online learning modules and videos. To keep costs down Engineering New Zealand did as much work in-house as possible including programme design, content writing, graphic design, filming and video production.
Alongside this, a huge effort to recruit, train and match ambassadors with the right schools.
After a pilot, the full Rocket Challenge programme was rolled out in April 2019. It had a goal to attract 200 schools to participate and it quickly achieved this after an email campaign to existing teachers utilising the previous Futureintech database, promotion through the Education Gazette, and phone calls. With many schools getting multiple classes involved it’s reaching 13,500 kids. There was also a goal to increase the demographic and socio-economic representation of schools and with schools signed up around the country, it’s also achieved this goal. The schools are a mix of demographics, and it’s reaching lots in South Auckland and North Wellington which are low decile. Student surveys so far show it’s reaching 30 percent Māori and Pasifika kids, and a near 50/50 split on gender.
Supporting those kids, over 600 STEM professionals have signed up to be Wonder Project Ambassadors.